What is solar lentiginosis?
Solar lentiginosis is a common dermatological condition that occurs
mostly in white people over the age of 40. The condition involves the
appearance of pale brown to dark brown spots on the skin called solar
lentigines, liver spots, or age spots. Age spots are flat, usually oval areas
of the skin that have increased pigmentation. In other words, they’re darker
than the surrounding skin. They may be brown, black, or gray.
They’re most common on parts of the body that get regular sun exposure. This
- tops of the feet
- upper back
Although they can sometimes look like cancerous growths, age spots are
harmless. However, treatments such as skin lightening or removal can be used
for cosmetic purposes. The best way to prevent age spots is to avoid the sun
and wear sunscreen.
What causes solar lentiginosis?
Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the
primary cause of age spots. The pigment that gives your skin color is called
melanin. UV light speeds up the production of melanin, which results in darker skin,
or a tan. After years of exposure to UV light, melanin builds up in certain
areas and is produced in high concentrations. This results in age spots.
The UV light from tanning beds is from an
artificial source but is otherwise no different from the natural light of the
sun. The process of aging, regardless of UV exposure, also increases production
of melanin and leads to age spots.
Some people may be more susceptible to the
formation of age spots because of their genetic makeup. For example, you may be
more likely to develop lentigines if you have fair skin and blonde hair.
Conditions that resemble solar lentiginosis
Solar lentigines are harmless.
Some skin conditions that may resemble lentigines may be more serious, such as:
- melanoma, which is a malignant skin cancer
- keratosis, which is a noncancerous skin growth
- lentigo maligna, which is a type of skin cancer
See your doctor if you notice
any of the following characteristics in your skin spots:
- very dark pigmentation
- an increase in size over a short period
- an irregular border
- itching, tenderness, bleeding, or redness
- a combination of colors
Diagnosing solar lentiginosis
Your dermatologist will begin with a
visual inspection to diagnose solar lentigninosis and to rule out any other
skin conditions. Dermatologists can usually identify age spots by looking at
If you or your doctor have any concerns
or believe the spot on your skin may have a different cause, you may need a
skin biopsy. This means that your doctor will take a small sample of skin from
the area in question. You’ll receive a local anesthetic and your doctor will
cut away a small piece of skin. They’ll send the sample to a lab for
examination to determine if you have a condition other than solar lentiginosis.
Treatment for solar lentiginosis
Because age spots are harmless,
treatment isn’t necessary. However, many people choose to treat age spots for
cosmetic reasons. Topical medications are often less effective than physical
procedures, but the latter can produce unwanted side effects.
Treatments include the following:
- Your dermatologist can prescribe bleaching
creams to lighten age spots. These are often used with steroid and retinoid
creams. Together, these medications can lighten your skin over time.
- Cryotherapy involves using liquid nitrogen to
freeze the skin of the age spot. This can destroy the melanin that is producing
the dark color. There is a small risk of scarring with cryotherapy.
- Dermabrasion involves using a rotating brush to
scour your skin and remove its surface layers. You may experience redness and
scabbing from this procedure.
Using a laser on age spots can destroy
the cells that are producing melanin. This treatment requires several visits
and will cause the age spots to fade over the course of several weeks or
months. Laser therapy has no side effects if it’s done correctly. This is the
most costly removal technique.
A chemical peel involves applying acid
to your skin to dissolve its outer layers. New skin forms where the layers were
destroyed. You need to have the treatment several times to see results.
Irritation from it can be mild to severe. You should protect your skin from the
sun immediately after the treatment.
Preventing solar lentiginosis
The best way to prevent the formation of age spots is to avoid exposure to
the sun and tanning beds. Use sunscreen that provides protection from both
types of UV light, UVA and UVB. Cover yourself with a hat, sunglasses, and
clothing when you’re in the sun.
Solar lentiginosis is a harmless skin condition that often occurs with aging.
No treatment is necessary from a health perspective, but you may want to treat
it for cosmetic reasons. If so, various medications and therapies are
available. You can discuss them with your doctor. You can help prevent age
spots by always using sunscreen and covering yourself with a hat, sunglasses,
and clothing when you’re in the sun.